Mpho Skeef was born in apartheid South Africa. Her very birth was a crime, because her mother was white and her father was black, which was illegal until apartheid crumbled in 1994. Her mother was jailed for being part of the anti-apartheid movement the day before Mpho turned one. She took her daughter to jail with her. They fled South Africa when Mpho was four. She grew up in Brixton, London (UK).
She went to the BRIT school for performing arts and technology in Croydon, London after which she performed backing vocals for Ms Dynamite and Natasha Bedingfield.
In 2004, she signed to the Arts Council-funded record label Documented Records and, in 2005, released her debut single, ‘Comin’ For Ya’, and the four-track EP ‘Don’t Like You’. By late 2006, Mpho had joined PIAS Recordings/Wall of Sound on the strength of ‘Don’t Like You’, and was preparing an electro-influenced album titled ‘To Spite My Face’ with producers including Spacek, dBridge, and Yan Murawski. She also released a second solo single, ‘What You Waiting For?’, the same year.
By 2009, sessions for the album — now titled Pop Art — had gone into a heavily pop music direction with producers such as Future Cut, Rick Nowels, Rob Davis, and Switch. As such, Mpho issued the mixtape ‘Mpho & the Art of Pop’ in January 2009 with DJ Beware. To fund extensive promotion of the album Pop Art, Wall of Sound brokered Mpho a five-album deal with EMI’s Parlophone subsidiary. Meanwhile, Mpho performed a cover version of Running Up That Hill during several live performances.
Mpho’s first single on Parlophone, the Switch-produced ‘Box N Locks’ (which included a sample of Martha & the Muffins’ ‘Echo Beach’; she was the first ever artist to be allowed to sample this track), was released in July 2009 and peaked at number 49 on the UK Singles Chart. ‘Pop Art’ was scheduled to follow in October 2009, but following minimal airplay of second single ‘See Me Now’, the album was shelved. Mpho subsequently announced via Twitter that Parlophone had dropped her due to creative differences.
In 2010, Mpho opened a vintage tea shop in Brixton with her sister. In 2012, she performed a one-off gig at London’s Tate Modern gallery as part of an event celebrating the South London Black Music Archive.
- Meet Mpho: Singer who survived an apartheid jail is new star. Daily Record, 25 June 2009.
- Mpho. Wikipedia, retrieved 20 September 2018.